GEORGE CAMSELL: GOAL MACHINE
Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton, Ian Rush, Thierry Henry and Cliff Bastin are widely known as some of English football’s most lethal goal scorers. Each has topped the goalscoring charts, and their record-breaking exploits and are regularly mentioned.
But one name you’re less likely to hear is George Camsell, which is strange, as he has more career goals in English football than any of the players just mentioned by quite a distance.
George Camsell is the boy who just couldn’t stop scoring, a virtual goal machine.
He is also largely forgotten – not only by the English game but, some might say, by Middlesbrough FC and its supporters, the same club for which he scored 345 career goals between 1925-1939, including a club record 63 goals in one season.
Outside the Riverside Stadium stand the original gates from the club’s previous home, Ayresome Park.
On either side of the gates stand two giant bronze statues, legends of not only Middlesbrough FC but of England’s national team of years gone by.
One is of former Boro and England forward Wilf Mannion, nicknamed the “Golden Boy.” The other is “gentleman” George Hardwick, England fullback and wartime captain of Great Britain.
Absent is the record-breaking George Camsell, English football’s fifth-highest goal scorer of all time.
Impressively Camsell chalked up a club record 345 career goals, with 235 of those coming in the top flight of English football, and had an equally illustrious career with the national team, scoring 18 goals in nine games between 1929-1936.
That’s more career and top-flight goals than Charlton, Law, Bastin, Lofthouse, Matthews, Rush, Cole, Henry – and almost everybody else.
So why have most people never heard of Camsell, and why is he not celebrated today?
One obvious reason is the fact that he played so long ago. He started his career at Durham City in 1924-25 and moved to Middlesbrough the following season for £500.
Today you will struggle to find anyone living who actually saw him play. Cigarette cards, old photographs, history books and folklore are Camsell’s popular legacy – this, and some grainy footage on YouTube of him scoring for England against Scotland at Wembley, and another clip of him training at Ayresome Park is all there is to be found.
Somehow, however, other pre-WW2 players like Dixie Dean, Steve Bloomer, Geordie Favourites Hughie Gallacher and Jackie Milburn are more remembered and revered.
If the question came up in a pub quiz, most people would probably name Dixie Dean or Jimmy Greaves as English football’s all-time top scorer. In fact, that honour goes to Arthur Rowley, who had 434 career goals between 1946 and 1964, although he is not mentioned as often as the more known Dean, Greaves or Steve Bloomer, who follow him in the record books.
Remarkably, Camsell, fifth on the list, is only seven goals behind Bloomer and 12 behind Greaves. The number-two all-time top scorer, Dean – the most famous striker of his day – remains as the scorer of the most league goals (60) in a season. And some could argue was also Camsells nemesis.
Regular penalty-taker Dean, who was desperate to surpass Camsell’s record of 59 (set the previous season), broke it during the 1927-28 campaign for Everton, the eventual League champions.
Camsell himself did not consider penalties to be “proper” goals, so he refused to take them.
George Camsell was part of two promotion teams, was Boro's all-time top scorer with 345 goals and scored the most goals in a season with 63. He was the top scorer for ten seasons running and still holds the record for most hat tricks in a season (9), part of a career total of 24.
As you can see by the chart below, Camsell’s goal-scoring record in his 14 seasons with Middlesbrough was phenomenal.
Camsell, from Framwellgate Moor in County Durham, worked in the mines at age 13 and was allegedly originally discovered during a kick-about at the local pit one afternoon during a strike. Legend has it that he didn’t even kick a ball until he was 18.
The versatile Camsell was equally comfortable scoring on a cold, wet night on a muddy pitch in the northeast amateur leagues as he was a sunny afternoon on the Wembley baize for England.
Originally a winger, Camsell’s goal-scoring exploded when he was drafted to replace the injured Jimmy McClelland at the start of 1926-27 during an early-season slump for Boro. After missing the first four games, Camsell managed to bag a record 59 league goals in 37 games (and 63 goals in all competitions) to help make Boro champions. Described by Brian Clough as “the toughest player in the football league” Camsell was a complete all-rounder, able to score with both feet and head regularly from every angle, inside and outside the penalty area.
With the nation’s favourite, Dixie Dean, playing for Everton and Camsell plying his trade in the unglamorous northeast, Dean was seen as the poster boy for English football alongside Cliff Bastin, Arsenal’s own goal machine of Chapman’s glory days. Both were England regulars compared to Camsell. With so few international fixtures compared to modern football and with the England team of the day being picked by an FA committee, it helps explain why Camsell was only selected nine times over a span of 7 seasons.
If Camsell was playing and scoring goals at the same rate today, he could be playing in the Champions League with Real Madrid or Barcelona, commanding a £70m transfer fee and earning £150k per week. As it was, he lived in a small house on a terraced street within walking distance of Ayresome Park and drove an old Morris Eight car.
Camsell was only 22 when he arrived at Middlesbrough in 1925. He stayed until the end of his career in 1939. Camsell had played away to Liverpool in the second game of the 1939-40 season when WW2 broke out and officially ended football for seven seasons. On Saturday, 3 September 1939, after the third game of the 1939-40 season, all football in Great Britain was halted. War just had been declared, and large gatherings were banned.
WAR YEARS AND AFTER FOOTBALL...
But some football did continue of course. Camsell continued to represent Boro in Northern Leagues and Cup's for a further three years, until the 1941-42 season. He appeared 28 times and scored a further 19 goals while playing with Mannion, Harold Shepherdson and guest players including Matt Busby from Liverpool. Camsell would have been approaching 40 years of age the last time represented Middlesbrough.
After his playing days, Camsell worked for the club as a coach, chief scout, and assistant secretary before retiring in December 1963. On his retirement, he was presented with a television as a thank-you for dedicating four decades of his life to the Middlesbrough Football Club.
In March 1966, George Camsell died in the town’s General Hospital, adjacent to Ayresome Park where he had scored so many goals – close enough to hear the roar of the Holgate End one last time. He was 63 years old.
It’s highly unlikely that any of Camsell’s goal-scoring records will ever be broken for Middlesbrough Football Club. He is the standout player from the club’s past who did something extraordinary and should not be forgotten.
Newcastle fans still worship Wor’, Jackie Milburn. Everton fans still speak of Dixie Dean, and Derby celebrate Steve Bloomer. Middlesbrough should keep the memory of George Camsell alive and celebrate his incredible legacy and what he once did for this great football club. We should also follow suit and erect a statue for the club’s highest goal scorer in its 139-year history – not just to celebrate, but to inspire others to do the same. We may never see his like again.
Some supporters claim that smaller clubs lack history. Well, Middlesbrough certainly has some history, all right. They just don’t shout about it.
George Camsell 1902-1966
Middlesbrough FC: 1925-1939